Imran Ritchie couldn't play during last year's run to the county final, so he watched instead. And he learned.
The Uniondale senior point guard broke his left elbow during the final game of the regular season last year and missed the playoffs, where Uniondale lost to Baldwin in the championship.
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"Having to watch the games instead of play in them, I picked up on a lot of stuff last year," said Ritchie, who added that his elbow healed after six months. "I saw and realized that the tempo of the game isn't like it is in the regular season. Anybody can win on any given night."
What Ritchie learned last season is what he put to good use Wednesday as third-seeded Uniondale defeated No. 2 Elmont, 58-48, in a Nassau Class AA semifinal at SUNY Old Westbury.
Uniondale (16-2) will play No. 4-seed Farmingdale at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Adelphi for the county title. Elmont finished 14-4.
In a game that featured a multitude of turnovers by both teams, it was Uniondale's backcourt of Ritchie and Shomari Redd that made sure the Knights held on in the fourth quarter. Elmont, which trailed the entire second half, cut the deficit to five (39-34) with about six minutes left. But Ritchie and Redd continuously found one another with pretty passes out of a tight Elmont press. It led to frequent trips to the free-throw line.
"Our backcourt did a great job of controlling the ball for us at key points in this game," Uniondale coach Tom Diana said. "They played exactly how we needed them to. Just two good leaders on the court."
Redd led Uniondale with 16 points and five rebounds. Ritchie filled the stat sheet with 12 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Alan McDonald added 10 points and 14 rebounds and Najee Peters contributed eight points off the bench.
Chiazam Nwankwo led Elmont with 11 points and 10 rebounds. He had eight points in the fourth as Elmont attempted its late rally. Tristan Brown and Matthew Graham added nine points apiece.
Ritchie won't be the only one new to the experience of playing in a county final for Uniondale.
"I wasn't even here last year so playing at Uniondale has been new for me as well," said Redd, who transferred from St. Anthony's. "What I do know about this team this year is that every time we stepped on the court we have treated it like it could be our last."
When the buzzer sounded, Uniondale's celebration was quite subdued, to say the least. Ritchie, after watching too much celebrating after last season's win in the semifinal round, said he instructed his team that this time would be different.
"First of all, last year when we won this game, we celebrated way too much," Ritchie said. "We decided if we win this game we were going to shake Elmont's hands and get back to practice tomorrow."